March 8, 2011

Villains: Part Two

Villains are people too--which means that their characters are just as complicated and confusing as everyone else's characters. I thought I'd take this post to mention a few of these oddities and complications. I'd love you all to share your thoughts too!
~Strangely enough, it wasn't until just last November (in the midst of my first NaNoWriMo) that I came to a startling realization: just because someone is the enemy doesn't mean they're the villain. In fact, being the enemy doesn't even make them a bad guy!
Maybe it was just my own mental density that kept me from realizing it sooner, but I had honestly never thought about it before. The fact that someone is on the opposing side doesn't necessarily mean they're evil. The character that brought this fact to light for me was really just a decent, average family man... who happened to be a soldier on the 'wrong' side of a war.
~A police officer friend of mine once told me that "there's no such thing as the criminal genius. If he was a genius, he wouldn't be a criminal." The moral of the story: the fact that your fictional villain is evil doesn't necessarily mean he's brilliant. That's not to say you should never write a villain who's smart, but it does mean that he doesn't have to be smart to be evil. The villain from my current novel-in-progress is as hideously evil as they come... but the man is simply none-too-bright. (He needs Vizzini to plan--he has no gift for strategy.)
~I am not of the school of thought that says a villain has to have a streak of decency to be believable. After three years of working with the villain in my novel, I have yet to locate a single smidgen of decency anywhere in his character. But that doesn't have to be the case with all villains; a lot of them do have streaks of decency (if it can be called that) in them. During WWII the Nazis considered animal abuse a heinous crime, for crying out loud. How ironic and contradictory is that?
How about you? What are some of the complications you find in developing and writing villains?


  1. I'm having trouble finding anything decent in one of my villians. What makes that a real problem is that I want him to repent at some point...although I am reconsidering it.

  2. Oo--yeah, I can see where that would create some difficulty, Galadriel. I feel your pain!

  3. Villains don't have to have a streak of decency because of total depravity. I'm not sure even villains who repent need a soft spot to do so, because true repentance is a work of grace, not of the person's self. Still, you can't have it pop out of the blue... which means I'm absolutely no help.
    But they do have to have a streak of something recognizable, because humans are made in the image of God. And sometimes even villains come to a place where they can see what should have been.
    If the villain isn't human, you can do whatever you like.


What are your thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear your comments, questions, or ideas, even if you don't agree with me. Please be aware that I reserve the right to delete comments that are uncivil or vulgar, however.